June 4, 2020 started out as a normal day until mid-morning, when a strange odor, like rotting garlic in vinegar, filled the kitchen and breakfast room. Soon after, our central AC caused the stench to permeate the house. We called the natural gas company to check for a leak, and AC repair to see if the central system was faulty. My wife opened the kitchen window.
The gas company was very concerned and had us evacuate the house and temporarily move into my backyard, all-electric studio. Eventually the very kind man from the natural gas company gave us an “all-clear” to move back into the house, as there was no trace of natural gas at all; but he was totally baffled as to what the annoying smell could be. Being the kind and helpful person he was, he stayed around for a while to help us search for the source of the odor.
Under my wife’s leadership, the three of us searched the kitchen area (seemingly the odor’s source) for rotting garlic, deteriorating potatoes and other spoiled food items that might cause such a smell. After a thorough search of all cabinets, crevices, corners, and hard-to-get-to places, we found three large spoons behind the fridge, but no perishables. We did notice that trays of ice and food in the freezing compartment of the fridge had melted. We said goodbye to the kind and concerned gas man, heartily thanking him for his beyond-the-call-of-duty assistance.
“Now what?” I said aloud as the AC repair man rang the doorbell. He noticed the odor immediately as he came in, and, like the gas man, was concerned. He proceeded to clean the system, install a new electrostatic filter, and inspect the outside unit, but found nothing amiss with the central cooling. About that time, our twenty year old refrigerator died completely. We had been aware for several days that it had been an ailing appliance, but it had continued to freeze above and cool below.
The sudden demise of the fridge triggered a frantic discussion between the wife and me, and the concerned AC repairman got in on the discussion. Having years of experience with refrigerants, he observed that a 20-year old fridge still had Freon (or something similar) in the coils on the back (which it did), and these coils can leak, releasing an odor that smells like garlic and vinegar. My wife unplugged the fridge. By the time the AC repairman left, the odor was gone. So was our refrigerator!
Unfortunately, the saga of the dying refrigerator was not over for us. Made it through the night by putting the perishables in a large ice chest. The next morning, we measured the refrigerator, the passage way between counter and oven, the doorway next to the appliance. The fridge was too large to be moved through either the passageway or the doorway. We wondered how in the world we got it in the kitchen in the first place.
To install a new fridge, the old one has to go out, and the new one has to be moved in. To make a long story shorter: I called one major appliance store. No response. I called another major appliance store, and they weren’t sure they had a fridge which would fit the space, but they would look. I called the nearest “Mom and Pop” Sears Hometown Store. Yes, they had the newest model of the very brand of our now dead 20-year-old fridge. Yes, they could take the old one out, deliver the new one, and install it! How? By miracle? “We take the refrigerator doors off when we bring one in or take one out. Ah ha! So that’s how we got the old one in twenty years ago!
To be sure, our frustration and anxiety levels had reached their maximum (all this against the background of COVID-19 and racial unrest in our country), but my initial response to the odor and the dying refrigerator was to fall on the sofa laughing at our actions and reactions. At the same time, the saga of the dying refrigerator made me feel a sense of warmth about living in a small town, where help is on its way accompanied by caring and concern and empathy, and where the folks at the nearby Sears Hometown Store are like family. Life is good!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.